As I make this post, today is Thanksgiving Day. A day we typically spend huddled around family, football, and an unfortunate turkey. And hopefully, as we are huddled around the dinner table together we reflect on at least one thing for which we are truly thankful.
The art at left needs no introduction. It’s that ubiquitous Norman Rockwell painting that strikes a chord in all of us this time of year. And while some argue that Rockwell captured an “America that wasn’t,” we can still appreciate the ideals he represented in his mind’s eye.
Isn’t that why we love this painting? It represents what we want to see? What we hope to feel? I think we can agree that there is an emotional connection no matter how we interpret it.
When you look at this painting what do you see? Notice there is no prayer taking place, no giving of thanks—yet. Eleven people in a multi-generational family are depicted. Two with hands clasped perhaps anticipating a Thanksgiving prayer; eight are happily engaged in family banter. Let’s call her Betty, sits in the middle of the table on the right. She smiles at Joann across the table. Is that mischief in her eye? Her meaning is privileged information reserved only for Joann.
Little Susie, carefully tucked in the top left hand corner, is looking playful while Uncle Ray (bottom right), is in a world of his own as he spies you and me observing the scene. Grandma, who made it all possible, gently places the turkey on the table. Grandpa stands quietly behind her as the family patriarch, poised to deliver his Thanksgiving speech and family prayer.
But that’s just how I see it.
Where am I going with this? Well, consider this. If I referred to this painting but did not show it here, and then asked you to remember it, how would you describe what is happening in the picture? I’m willing to bet that most people would say something like, “Oh yeah, I remember that painting. It has a family gathered around the table praying together as the turkey is placed on the table.”
The truth is, that is not what’s happening, that is what’s about to happen. And that may be part of the genius of Rockwell. He could make us see things, or anticipate things, that were not there because he appealed to our ideals.
What does this have to do with writing? For the writer, I suppose, this technique would be equivalent to guiding the reader to “read between the lines” or to “show, don’t tell.” It’s painting vivid scenes with words. It’s transferring what’s in the writer’s mind to the readers’ experience and allowing the reader to embellish it. It’s foreshadowing what’s to come but allowing the reader room to interpret the meaning.
But that’s not what I really want to say about this classic painting. Not today.
Today, I want to simply remind you to pause and take a moment to be thankful. First, give thanks for all of the things in your life that really matter, faith and family. But don’t forget to be thankful for your writing and how far you’ve come this year.
Like what, you say? Well, how about that article you wrote that got published? And yes, how about that article that didn’t get published—but you had the guts to submit it and resubmit it? What about the novel you started, the novel you finished, the agent you landed, or what you’ve learned during the unsuccessful agent search? How about the blogs you’ve read, the blog you started, the hits you’ve had, or the followers you’ve gained? When you look back on your writing over the year, there’s something to be thankful for. What will you do to celebrate it?
This Rockwell painting resonates with me because of what it lets me see and how it makes me feel. But most importantly, I love it because it reminds me of another art; the art of giving thanks.
The Writer’s Refuge blog is a place for writers, like you, to break away from your daily routine and for just a few minutes find insight, inspiration or simply a word of encouragement. Blog entries are posted once a week on Thursday.
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